Winchester still assessing washout damage
WINCHESTER, N.H. -- It was unknown early Thursday afternoon how much it will cost to repair the roads devastated when a brook and a beaver dam breached and forced nearby bodies of water to overflow early Wednesday morning.
Heavy rainfall that started close to midnight on Tuesday poured unsustainable volumes of water into an unnamed brook and a beaver pond and wreaked havoc on town- and state-owned roads because catch basins and pipe work could not handle it. Town Administrator Shelly Walker told the Reformer roughly 12 roads got washed out by Wednesday morning and two were still unpassable as of Thursday afternoon. The rainstorm and the flash floods it created damaged several homes in town and destroyed at least a few driveways (including that of Paul Taylor at 2 Ashuelot Main Street). There were no reported injuries.
Perhaps the worst damage was done to a portion of Old Westport Road, which has been severed in a way that makes it unpassable and it has been closed to through traffic. Walker said the break in the road was initially the width of a small culvert but was soon expanded to more than 150 feet. She said no one in town is stranded any longer and people who live on either side of Old Westport Road have other routes to get into the center of town. The damage inflicted is mesmerizing and water tainted reddish-brown due to high levels of silt continue to flow through the break in the road.
Walker told the Reformer there are three houses that cannot be reached by car at the top of Purcell Road, though she assumed whoever lives there can simply walk to and from their residence. She mentioned that the Winchester Highway Department, a local contractor and a selectman worked until 9 p.m. Wednesday to ensure all closed town roads could be completely reopened. She said the town's selectmen are working with the state departments of transportation, environmental services and homeland security/emergency management to assess the damage throughout town.
"We're very fortunate to have such a great board," she said. "They're very hands-on. They're always around town doing what they need to do."
Walker said she and some selectmen have driven around town taking photographs of the damage. She said her office was full of selectmen and town employees for a conference call to the various state agencies that have been summoned to help with the devastation.
New Hampshire state Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene, was at the intersection of Route 119 and Purcell Road on Wednesday to assess the damage with Selectmen Sherman Tedford and Theresa Sepe. Walker said it was wonderful to see the local state legislator so heavily involved in the situation.
"She's fantastic," Walker said.
On Wednesday, Tedford said the roads that were washed out included Old Westport, Gunn Mountain, Watson and Jantti roads and a section of Route 119 where it intersects with Purcell Road. Chris Hope, a highway patrol foreman with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, said the intersection got covered with water after the rain started around 11:30 p.m. or midnight on Tuesday. He said Route 119 was closed for a couple of hours but was then reopened to one lane of traffic by Wednesday afternoon. Both lanes were open by Thursday.
Traffic cones blocked off some tattered damage inflicted to the shoulder just off of South Parrish Road on Thursday. Resident Dale Van Cor told the Reformer water flowed across the street after a nearby brook became overwhelmed.
Walker said the town likely won't hear from FEMA because Winchester was the only town harmed by the washouts. She said a certain amount of damage must be done and several towns need to be affected for FEMA to step in. She expects to work with the state government to devise a way to repair the damage.
Walker told the Reformer on Wednesday the town has its work cut out for it, but believes residents will prevail over the hardship.
"We'll get through this," she said. "It's not going to be easy, and I'm sure it's not going to be quick, but we'll get through it."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.
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